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  • reiltinmurphy


Immediately after NCAD I got a job in the National Museum of Ireland as an archaeological illustrator; there were three of us. It was a perfect final chapter to an art education as it focussed on perfection - “draw what IS there, not what you THINK is there” - excellent advice. We worked under the roof lights in the Kildare Street building beside glazed cupboards of spare taxidermy. Occasionally our Natural History colleagues would open the cupboards to get a bird or small animal releasing a strong chemical smell. Next door was the Museum’s library and librarian, across the landing were the Museum’s photographers. We all drank tea together.

One Friday afternoon the staff were all called to the director’s office. The air in his room quivered. A large table was covered in a cloth. "This will break in Sunday's newspaper, they have the exclusive story, say nothing to anyone until then" we were warned. The cloth was whisked off and there, miraculous as a newly pulled carrot, covered in mud, was the Derrynaflan Hoard. Never, to my mind, was it more beautiful. The chalice was all mucky, new-born, not shining. I rushed home and told my mother. I wrote, immediately, to a friend in Italy. Months later the conserved gleaming chalice sat in our room while a senior colleague, without touching it, drew it in painstaking detail. When it went on public view we watched from a balcony as the first visitors arrived. Donal Murphy, sculptor and one of my NCAD lecturers, went down on his knees before it. I remembered that when I was among the first to see the Faddan More Psalter decades later, but I knelt only inwardly.

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